Thursday, May 16, 2013

Biometric social security cards and real security

The current bill S.744, the JOLT ACT is a very long bill, over 800 pages and Section 3102 talks about creating wear-resistant, fraud resistant social security cards with biometric data. This is supposed to make social security fraud more secure, and having a plastic social security card as opposed to a paper one makes a lot of sense, but two parts of this section make absolutely no sense, and there is one thing that should be here that isn't.

  1. Biometric data won't realistically improve the security of social security numbers. It also is expensive. This will mean the government will need to ensure that there are encrypted cards in each social security card, and make certain that the encryption can be only read by government approved machines to read the cards, to prevent the biometric data from being read from people who have no right to access the information. This means it will cost money. It makes sense for passports to have biometric data because travelers are going through customs across the world and scanning the passport allows customs to go quickly, but social security cards are used primarily for employment, and there is already a system to verify that someone has the right social security number on the Social Security Administration's website, so all that will happen with this is the government will waste money on a feature that has no clear advantage.
  2. The individual is limited to receiving 10 replacement social security cards in his/her lifetime under this bill. If someone had a series of unfortunate events which led to him/her losing his/her social security card 10 times, whether through moving, fire, or another event, than this person would be unable to receive a replacement. Because social security numbers can be verified, and in conjunction with picture ID, whether it is a Driver's License, or preferably a Passport, it is extremely difficult to get away with making a fake social security number. If an employer didn't do this step right than that person would not be very intelligent. This won't effect the security, it just puts in one more administrative hurdle for people to follow.
  3. There needs to be some way to verify that someone is using the right passport number through the Department of State. American Passports can be forged, like anything, and if the employer just has the copy of the passport but isn't able to verify the biometric data (which most employer's can't) than holding what looks like an American passport isn't worth much to be honest. If we really wanted to ensure that social security fraud was at a minimum and that people applying for work are who they say they are this bill would first allow any American Citizen to get an American Passport for free with proper documentation (which the government would verify using social security, driver's licenses, etc.) and then make it so that potential employers can verify that a claimed passport number is correct giving them the name, passport number, and date of birth on a secure part of the website.
  4. Also, there should be some federal standards for how States verify that people have the correct information when applying for a state license, a system like the following would be fool-proof. These are for first time applicants (the most difficult part of verification) who have not had a passport, driver's license, or other form of government-issued ID before.
    1. For an American citizen by birth who doesn't have a passport or other form of id, a certified birth certificate, social security card, and the presence of a parent or legal guardian with proof, along with proof of the parent or legal guardian's identity and citizenship. If the person's parent or legal guardian is deceased proof will be required. For legal guardians proof of custody is required. This means we can verify that they are an American citizen (social security number) their relation to their parents, and that their parents are who they say they are. It will be verified that the individual has not acquired a form of ID before. This would be extremely difficult to hack.  
    2. For a naturalized American citizen, a naturalization certificate, social security card, and picture identification from when they immigrated would be required. New immigrants will have access to receive a passport as soon they have their immigration ceremony which will be provided immediately free of charge. This will make their lives easier.
  5. For employment verification, the following should be sufficient. I have been a private investigator since January, and have been studying more about this issue since it has to do with my work. The following procedure or something very similar should be standard practice for employers to verify information
    1. A social security number to verify that the person is legal to work here.
    2. Picture identification that can be verified. This is why my third point here is saying there needs to be a way to verify a passport online for employers. Passports are the most standard form of identification in this country and since they are issued by the federal government are recognized throughout the world. A driver's license is good, but since different states have different licenses, an employer in Oregon who sees a driver's license claiming to be from Arkansas will probably have absolutely no idea what an Arkansas driver's license looks like. It is very easy to purchase machines that will print plastic cards. The embossing and engraving can be done, though it adds an extra hurdle. The driver's license would have to be verified of course, but using a passport would be the easiest way to tell at a glance, since they have a standard design and are issued nationwide, and as soon as we are able to verify them online through the State Department, they will be my preferred method of proving citizenship.
Most of the rest of this bill on a glance looks very reasonable, with the DREAM ACT and a farm worker visa which will cut back on an immense amount of abuse that currently goes on this country towards farm workers. But I find it particularly disturbing that there is no way to verify that someone has a passport through the Department of State, and that they think making biometric social security cards will make a real difference. Social security cards are not and should not be photo id, they should be designed to last a lifetime, and limiting the amount of replacement cards won't have a real effect on cutting down on fraud as long as employers know to verify their social security number and are able to verify their ID. Passports are the most universal form of identification and need to be able to be verified through the State Department. This is a major flaw in the current system the US has for verifying identity and needs to be fixed.

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